‘Tanim-bala’ is still alive | Inquirer Opinion

‘Tanim-bala’ is still alive

Three years after President Duterte defanged the “tanim-bala” modus operandi in our airports, the criminal scheme is still very much alive. My family and I fell victim to this devious scam.

To his credit, the President has already ordered that air travelers must not be arrested or inconvenienced with delayed travel, if they figure in “bullet in the luggage” incidents. The incident will only be recorded with the traveler’s profile. This was because of numerous complaints that airport personnel were framing passengers to milk bribe money. I thought that was the end of the shenanigan.


But last Monday, my wife and I, together with our 10-month-old baby and our nanny, experienced a “tanim-bala” ordeal at Tuguegarao Airport in Cagayan.

We were booked to fly to Manila. We went through the X-ray machine at the airport departure area entrance, without any incident. After we checked in, my wife, our baby and the nanny went ahead to the boarding area while I stepped out of the terminal to withdraw cash from an ATM.


My wife later recounted to me their dreadful experience. My wife held our baby while our nanny fed our hand-carry backpacks to the second X-ray machine at the boarding gate area entrance. The X-ray operator called my wife to the screen. In utter shock, my wife saw the image of a bullet in one of our bags. But my wife noticed red flags — the bullet was beside a thermometer which meant that it was made to appear incredulously inside our baby’s backpack, and; the bullet image was in very black color like a superimposed object, while the bag’s other contents were in translucent pastel colors with blurry edges.

Instead of pointing to our baby bag, however, a security personnel singled out our nanny’s floral backpack as the bag where the bullet was supposedly in. My wife and our nanny searched and showed all the compartments of the bag to prove that there was no bullet. But the security personnel inserted his hand inside the bag’s exterior pocket, and when he pulled it back, he opened his palm to reveal a bullet.

The security man interrogated my wife and our nanny, insinuating that we may have inadvertently left the bullet in the bag or that we may be using the bullet as an amulet. My wife and our nanny strongly denied the insinuations. The security personnel then intimated that they will have the incident off the record, but he looked at my wife with the expression of someone expecting a reward. My wife told him I would talk to him when I got back.

Despite the commotion, two policemen seated merely five feet away were acting as if nothing was happening. Their artificial nonchalance engendered suspicions of conspiracy in my wife.

My wife phoned me to narrate what had happened. When I reentered the terminal, the same security man approached me and, without me asking, volunteered to have the incident off the record. He was whispering to me in a manner that betrayed an effort to make me feel I owed him a favor and for which he was entitled to a reward. I told him curtly: “Itigil ’nyo na ang kalokohan ’nyo na ’yan. Ang sama sama ng ginagawa ’nyo” (Stop all your trickery. What you’re doing is very, very bad). I did not give a centavo and I proceeded to join my family.

I was seething with anger, but my priority was to get my family out of the area because I didn’t want my wife and baby and nanny’s safety compromised. We were able to fly out of Tuguegarao, and we’ve written complaints to the Department of Transportation and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

It’s a terrible feeling of betrayal when people tasked to ensure your security turn out to be devious men who imperil your safety. These men will deny to high heavens the accusations against them. With the stored memories of closed-circuit television footage and X-ray machines, it should be easy for authorities to wrap up an investigation.


If this can happen to a lawyer-couple like us, with my wife even a municipal mayor, I imagine with dread and pity the ordeal of innocent overseas Filipino workers, foreign tourists, “balikbayan” and ordinary travelers who have fallen victim to this diabolical roguery.

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